Icons, Part One

image by Rebekah Choat

image by Rebekah Choat

Madeleine L’Engle, in Penguins and Golden Calves, defines an icon as “something I can look through and get a wider glimpse of God…saying something that cannot be said in words.”

As I grow older, I’m also growing more mindful of the things that remind me of His presence day to day, here, near me where I live – my personal icons, if you will.

Foremost among these are trees.

The trees of my earliest memories are those in front of Grandma and Grandpa’s house – two massive trunks, strong and steadfast; huge graceful boughs spreading sheltering arms over the whole yard, making a living canopy of dappled light and shade under which my cousins and brother and I could play untroubled by the hot South Texas sun. Although Mama remembers when the house was built and the trees were planted, by the time of my childhood the place was comfortably settled and had, in my small consciousness, the air of that which always had been and always would be.

The home I live in now is a couple hundred miles northeast of Grandma and Grandpa’s old place, and several million miles removed from anything they would ever have imagined in terms of square footage, automation, and what they would call extravagance. But it’s the first place I’ve ever lived that has this air about it, this essence of home. There are seven trees on the lot, anchored by a magnificent oak in the backyard. I sit outside every morning early, airing my mind and soul and soaking in the strength, stability, and solace that seem to emanate from its heart.

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Between the Trees

image by Rebekah Choat

image by Rebekah Choat

Genesis 2: 8-9:  The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden,
and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground
the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and
good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and
the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Revelation 22: 1-2:  And he showed me a pure river of water of life,
clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.
In the middle of its street and on either side of the river was the tree
of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month.
And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

 

Trees, at the beginning of life as we know it, and at what we call the end of life as we know it – or, we could say, the beginning of life as we shall know it even as we are known. Between them, this long stretch of time, some of which is now ours – the days of living between the trees.

 

Those who give their thought

image copyright Rebekah Choat

image copyright Rebekah Choat

Those who give their thought
to seed, to love and the bringing to birth,
must know the sightless underside
of earth, and perhaps more than once,
for no one goes at no cost
to that place where what is dark,
more still than the hands
of the dead, remembers the light
again, and starts to move.

It is spring, and the little trees
that sprouted in the abandoned field
two years and more ago, striving
to grow, half-smothered under
the shadows of the tall weeds,
now rise above them
and spread their newleafed branches,
nothing between them and the light
sky, nothing at all.

~ Wendell Berry

When I Am Among the Trees

image by Rebekah Choat

image by Rebekah Choat

When I Am Among the Trees
by Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

These times we know much evil…

photo by Rebekah Choat

photo by Rebekah Choat

These times we know much evil, little good
To steady us in faith
And comfort when our losses press
Hard on us…

For we are fallen like the trees, our peace
Broken, and so we must
Love where we cannot trust,
Trust where we cannot know,
And must await the wayward-coming grace
That joins living and dead,
Taking us where we would not go —
Into the boundless dark.

~ Wendell Berry

Outdoor Communion

image courtesy stock.xchng

image courtesy stock.xchng

The Branch Delicate
E.B. White, Trees of Winter

Oh, they are lovely trees that wait
In the still hall of winter,
Silent and good where the Good Planter
Fixed the root, wove the branch delicate.

Friendly the birches in the thin light
By the frost sanctified,
And here, too, silent by their side,
I stand in the woods listening, upright,

Hearing in the cold of the long pause
Of the full year
What trees intend that I should hear:
Interpretations of old laws…

Hearing the faint, the chickadee cry
Of root that molders,
Of branch bent, and leaf that withers
And little brown seed that does not die.

The cadence of this poem transports me to a great open-roofed cathedral, in which the trees are the pillars and the Planter the unseen celebrant.  I stand under the bare, arching branches, the only human for miles, wrapped in a solitude dense with an almost-tangible Presence.

 It is good to be here, just to breathe, just to be.   All shall be well.  It is good to know that this is the place ordained for me to be, for a season.  All shall be well.  It is good to commune with the trees in this vast stillness, to partake in the mystery of the falling leaf and the moldering root and the seed biding its time.  All manner of thing shall be well.

This piece was originally posted on http://www.allninemuses.wordpress.com, the lovely blog of a lovely lady, Kelly Belmonte, without whose encouragement I would not be where I am today.